Colombia’s Justice Ministry ordered the mass release of prisoners on Tuesday after coronavirus-related deaths of inmates revived tensions in prisons throughout the country.
Justice Minister Margarita Cabello issued the decree that allowed prisoners to temporarily serve their time at home hours after reports that 15 prisoners in Villavicencio tested positive for the coronavirus created an explosive situation.
The decree comes almost a month after prison protests throughout Colombia triggered a massacre in Bogota’s La Modelo prison.
Decree 546 seeks to release non-violent offenders, an improvement on a previously leaked draft decree that was criticized for not resolving overcrowding or hygienic deficiencies.
With the exception of alleged sex offenders and criminals serving time for violent crimes and corruption , all inmates who have yet to be sentenced, convicts with sentences shorter than five years and prisoners who have served 40% of their sentence will be granted parole.
Additionally, prisoners older than 60, women with children younger than three years old, prisoners suffering serious illnesses or with a physical disablity will be released.
Inmates who are caught violating their “transitory” house arrest will be returned to prison, according to the decree.
Those who request to be released will be screened by a judge, who will inform the courts that sent the inmates to jail of their temporary release.
This process is supposed to last no longer than a week.
All prisoners must report to the authorities in order to be incarcerated again once the Justice Ministry lifts the Prison Emergency that was called after the riots in March, unless they have served their time by then.
The justice ministry did not indicate how many prisoners would be released, leaving it unclear whether the adapted decree would effectively end temporarily.
The decree did not include an order to guarantee that those who remain in prison will have access to water and other basic conditions that would allow improved hygiene.
Prisoners’ rights activists and lawmakers have been asking for months for emergency measures to prevent mass outbreaks of the coronavirus in prisons.